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Strengths Based Inclusive

By James R. Thompson, PhD All doctoral students and faculty in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas participate in specializations. The six specializations include the Strengths Based and Inclusive Approaches to the Education of Adolescents with Extensive and Pervasive Support Needs sequence of which I co-lead. I suspect that our specialization … Continue reading

Equity & Gifted Children: A Father’s Perspective

Dr. Donald Easton-Brooks, School of Education Dean at the University of South Dakota, shares his first-hand experience with the inequities gifted students and their families face.
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Strollin’ with Nolan

By Sean Joseph Smith

Nolan and I were asked to write this blog to share a little about Nolan and a local social media hit, Strollin’ with Nolan. Strollin’ with Nolan began as a series of short videos that Nolan and Brad Stoll–Lawrence High School Baseball Coach and Adaptive Physical Education (APE) teacher– took at various locations around the school. Brad posted each video on the Chesty Lions Twitter Feed.


It took only a couple of Strollin’ Tweets and the series began to receive tremendous feedback with followers wanting more. Brad started to receive text messages if he happened to skip a regular stream of installments!

nolan and brad

Nolan and his APE and Baseball Coach, Brad Stoll at Lawrence High School, Lawrence, KS.

Before long, the posts grew with a regular following. Brad’s posts garnered likes from all over with the LHS Baseball twitter feed receiving more attention than the average tweet. Overall, the videos were a hit, Brad and Nolan have shared a number of stories over the years, and with him being part of the baseball team (Baseball Manager), the videos have fostered a more supportive environment as a member of the team.

Nolan bringing the HEAT!

As I reflected on this blog though and the story to share about Strollin’ with Nolan, I kept coming back to the fact that the videos go beyond a simple social media post. You see, video has played an important part in Nolan’s life and it represents so much in Nolan’s educational experience. Now, I am not talking so much about the technology tool that video can and often represents. Yes, video is cool and video modeling and similar interventions are effective. But for Nolan, video has offered meaningful entry into the general education classroom, the curriculum, and the overall expectations. Let me explain.

sean and nolan

“Nolan and I”

When Nolan transitioned from 3-5 services to the early primary grades, inclusion wasn’t a slam dunk. Instead, extensive time in a resource room or para led instruction was recommended if not required. Through a number of discussions, pre-planning, and working with some excellent educators, Nolan received the supports needed to make general education inclusion for grades K-2 work. This involved regular meetings with his general and special education teachers. My wife and I also spent a fair amount of time in the general education classroom volunteering. Being there provided a chance to see Nolan in action, understand the class expectations, assist the teachers (thereby developing a relationship with him/her), and get to know his peers. During evenings and weekends, we pre-taught some of the major concepts and worked to prepare Nolan for the next day or week. Yes, a team approach during a time when schools are often open to including students with an intellectual disability in the general education classroom, is needed.

With the elementary grades upon us, the team approach continued to be critical. Yet, expectations grew. For a limited reader who had difficulty in writing, school was problematic for Nolan. The pressure to spend more time in the resources room and less time with typically developing peers mounted. We were being reminded that Nolan was an outlier and the services we were advocating for, the decisions for placement, and the supports that were needed went beyond typical services. Yet, everything we sought aligned with the provisions to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and so we continued to advocate.

By 3rd grade, our advocacy centered around technology. Technology to provide access to content, tools to demonstrate what he knew, and technology to make the learning experience more effective as well as efficient, particularly when you considered the brief school day and the increasingly shorter school year. In the end, applications like word prediction, graphic organizers, digital books (with text-to-speech support), and of course, video made a HUGE difference in Nolan’s educational experience. For example, word prediction allowed him to type in a letter and receive a list of words, he could then listen to the words and determine which would be best for a sentence. The other technologies were helpful but video was the equalizer. Video was used to create social stories, starring Nolan and his classmates, where he would illustrate the appropriate behavioral and social interactions expected in the classroom, hallway, cafeteria, and playgrounds. In place of a class presentation, Nolan created videos where additional time, practice, and editing allowed him to convey what he wanted to share. By the time he transitioned to middle school, videos were part of most every school day.

nolan and ricki

Nolan connecting with a true celebrity at the National Down syndrome Congress Annual Convention, Ricki Sabai.

Like any transition, moving to Middle School proved to be a challenge. Though we planned ahead, a number of the teachers weren’t sure what to make of Nolan. Again, there was a special room for the Nolans of the world. Inclusion meant gym, a few electives, and lunch. It certainly didn’t include all academic subjects, band, theater, and other electives. Fortunately, we had an accomplished videographer. With no time for oral reports or class presentations, Nolan was expected to complete the worksheet or related written assignment. Within three weeks, teachers questioned his placement and ability. Realizing failure meant segregation, Nolan put together a brief video presentation on the early American explorers. He sent the video via email on a Friday and by Tuesday his social studies teacher was singing his praises. She went from a primary skeptic to his number one advocate. For the remainder of his middle school years, the separate room was not mentioned again.

nolan and kate

Nolan as keynote speaker at Rhinestones & Rodeo Art Auction and Dance with Kate Dougherty.  This event hosted by Down Country, its biggest fundraiser of the year.Down Country helps raise awareness and help individuals with disabilities.

By High School, Lawrence Public Schools had adopted a blended learning instructional model. Video was commonplace as a means to represent ideas and support the student in demonstrating what they knew.  In other words, Nolan and his video projects were cool! They had also come full circle. While Brad Stoll was adding more and more Strollin’ with Nolan videos, Nolan was beginning to create his own. As a journalism student, he pitched the idea of creating a series of Strollin’ with Nolan interviews for the Yearbook/Journalism website. He would invite staff or students to be interviewed, develop the questions, storyboard the interview, conduct the interview, and the edit the production in order to share with others. His first featured a para he liked to see:

Strollin with Nolan Episode 1

Soon, he was developing audio and video episodes where he continued to interview members of the Lawrence High School community which would be featured on the LHS Budget Online,

nolan and lhs kids

Nolan and his fellow classmates Emceeing Pack the House (for Winter Sports) at Lawrence High School. Inclusion at work with thanks to the STUCO Advisor (Mrs. Lauxman) and his peers who are accepting, welcoming, and empowering. We are blessed and Thankful!

Today, Strollin’ with Nolan continues! Strollin’ with Nolan Interview.

Brad and Nolan post periodic updates on the LHS Baseball Twitter feed and Nolan develops material for the LHS Budget Online. But it extends beyond the social media. Nolan’s videos require a level of organization, idea generation, scripting, and overall storyboarding – a process he leads. The video requires speech fluency and effective articulation. Where else then to receive speech and language support from his Speech and Language Pathologist? She is with him twice a week working with the script and practicing to ensure competency and independence.

smith familiy

A labor of love for Nolan that serves as a tool for meaningful access to the general education classroom, social inclusion, and school notoriety where Coach Stoll often refers to Nolan as the Mayor of Lawrence.  Why?  Everyone seems to know Nolan.



We Are All Emotional Intersectional Beings: A Necessary Ingredient for Affective Intersectional Inclusion for ALL

Co-Lead Authors:  David I. Hernández-Saca & Sarah Salinas


What do we all have in common, yet at the same time experience qualitatively differently? We all experience a range of positive, negative and in-between emotions as we live our daily lives as human beings with multiple and intersectional identities (Crenshaw, 1991). Having multiple and intersectional identities with a range of emotionality, are two sides of the same coin. By intersectional we mean that a person can embody and experience cultural practices, such as reading out loud in a classroom or participating in an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting for their child, differently, given their multiple identities. For example, an African American woman will experience cultural practices differently than an African American man or an emergent bilingual[1] who also happens to be Mexican. Dominant institutionalized narratives about historically and continually marginalized youth at their intersections, particularly the intersections of race and ability, persist to this day leading to misunderstandings (Hall, 1997; West, 1993).


This positioning of marginality existed in institutions such as the courts through single dimensional recognition of individual’s rights and personhood which leads to social patterns and practices of segregation based on gender, language, racial/ethnic, ability, and class differences (Crenshaw, 1989). In other words, our identities might include being a mother, father, student, sister, teacher, husband, partner, paraprofessional, special educator, general educator, and/or student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a Specific Learning Disability such as Dyslexia, Autism, Down Syndrome, or Emotional Behavioral Disorder. However, we are not only these, but have other identities that make us vulnerable to the perceptions that societies and cultures have inherited due to these past histories. Given these vulnerabilities, oppression and marginalization exist in multiple, simultaneous ways. An intersectional understanding of folks’ identities would not allow us to forget this.


Frierian philosophy directs us to recognize the full humanity of all persons which includes aspects of affect and emotionality, as well as the individually unique positionality and experiences shaped by our individual identities and intersectional lives. Some of these emotions might include anger, sadness, frustration, irritation, indignation, powerless, joy, disappointment, love, pride, and hope. We might experience more than one of these emotions at a time. Our emotions, feelings and affects and our intersectional identities, within educational contexts and cultures may, given our culture-less[2] and identity-less dominant perceptions, be unacknowledged (Artiles, King-Thorius, Bal, Waitoller, Neal, & Hernández-Saca, 2011; Artiles, 2017, October 19; Hernández-Saca, 2017). It is important to acknowledge and act in ways that respect such complexity and lived experiences particularly within the context of education.


Literature on parent-school relationships documents how families from historically marginalized communities continue to feel alienated from the bureaucracies associated with schools (Harry, Allen, & McLaughlin, 1995; Trainor, 2010), as do their children. Specifically, consider the following key findings about how many school and transition personnel often fail to engage with culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) families and youth with disabilities, by Greene (2011). This study finds that they often–

  1. Do not possess critical knowledge and skills related to the multiple dimensions of cultural and linguistic diversity (CLD);
  2. Do not respect CLD parents and youth with disabilities involved in the transition process;
  3. Do not acknowledge the hopes and dreams for the future held by CLD families and youth with disabilities;
  4. Do not engage in culturally responsive collaboration with CLD families and youth with disabilities in a way that makes them feel valued, listened to, and respected during the transition planning process. (p.118-119)


Similar patterns of intersectional marginalization have been documented at different grade levels. Gallo (2017) conducted a multi-year ethnographic study and documented the ways in which teachers enacted gender, racial, and immigration bias towards Mexican immigrant fathers of elementary age children in Pennsylvania. Gallo (2017) observed the increased marginalization of Mexican immigrant fathers, whose presence engendered greater suspension and surveillance in school and educational settings. Manifestations of this, she noted, often took the form of being ignored at parent-teacher conferences, and through teacher discourse about their parental engagement in language-building and literacy activities with their own children,  as subversive and detrimental to academic development (Gallo, 2017).


One explanation for this might be the deficit-thinking dominant in society about CLD youth at their intersections and their families. This deficit-thinking in turn becomes lies that circulate as “true” within society, communities, schools and individual minds about CLD youth and their families. According to sociologists, these lies are social constructions and stereotypes about particular individuals based on their membership in a particular identity group (Ainlay, Becker, & Coleman, 1986).  We have come to understand the traditional memberships (race, gender, sexual orientation, social class) as “identity badges” (Artiles, 2015). However, from a cultural historical approach to human development and activity, we can also see that professional, cultural, and other types of roles carry with them stereotypical residues, which, in light of the histories of violence against such groups, create vulnerability to stereotypes about who and how capable they are. Ginsberg, Kamat, Raghu, and Weaver (1995) pointed out the pervasive, yet public myth that teaching is an apolitical activity. This predicament makes it imperative to remind ourselves that we are all human[s] who experience the full range of negative, positive and in-between emotions, and that for too long our educational and broader culture has used these emotions as a mechanism of exclusion as opposed to inclusion.


How we critically feel and think about who counts within a community is a deeply ingrained and learned phenomena that has the potential to either humanize or dehumanize, or at worst, create the other (Said, 1978).  In creating the other, we construct an image of that person in our own way, a way that is deeply false to who they are and disconnected from reality and humanity (Powell, 2012).  Since building relationships involves emotionality, and relationships are central to education, we argue that attention to how we build relationships is imperative for quality teacher education, special and general education policy, and practice.  One way of accomplishing this feat involves the study of emotionality and affect in teacher learning about social justice issues for theory, research, and practice. We care deeply about students with dis/abilities[3] at their intersections and their families and believe their human development and well-being is necessary to create an inclusive psychology, school, and world for ALL.


Flight by multimedia Los Angeles artist, Aaron Morse. Sourced from his website here.

Because of our own unique intersectional identities within the system of education and society, we each experience qualitatively different lives. I (first author) am Latino of mixed ethnicity, of El Salvadorean and Palestinian descent, gay, and labeled with an auditory learning disability. I (second author) identify as a Mexican-American woman, Texas native, with a health impairment that affects the way I structure and access school and work environments.  However, what we both have in common is: 1) our dehumanizing experiences within the educational system that hurt us and our opportunities to learn; and 2) our passion for educational equity for all that centers the role of unconditional and radical love (Fromm, 1956). In our view, unconditional and radical love has the potential to re-envision educational policy and praxis—the coupling of critical thinking and action—for historically and continually marginalized youth with dis/abilities at their intersections and emotional states[4].


Image of Michael Brown (RIP), 18-year old unarmed African-American youth shot and killed in Ferguson, MO by police officer, Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. By Rin Jonson for Hyperallergic.


As a fairly new teacher educator I, David, have come to understand my role in the last year and a half as listening to my pre-service teachers’ fears, hopes, passions, dreams, and witnessing how they make sense of their developing understanding of critical educational equity issues. These issues include: White Supremacy, whiteness, cultural diversity, disproportionality (the over or under representation of students of color and minority students in special education compared to their white counterparts), special and general education law, the history of deinstitutionalization for people with dis/abilities in the U.S., questions related to whether special education and general education should merge, collaboration between special and general educators, the importance of intersectionality for serving historically and continually marginalized youth and their families, and other critical issues in special and general education.

All of these critical issues in special and general education have legal precedent and it is of critical importance for new teachers, at their intersections, to also understand how their future students and their families are qualitatively differently situated within the system. The legal precedent includes federal special education laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (P.L. 108-446), and federal general education laws such Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (P.L. 89-10), later renamed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (P.L. 107-110) and more recently Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) (P.L. 114-95).


Developing a critical consciousness of such issues beyond the technical dimensions of teaching and learning is a central goal of the courses I teach in teacher preparation. The two courses are 1) special education law, assistive technology, and advocacy and 2) transition planning and programming for students with disabilities at their intersections. Developing a critical consciousness includes creating new knowledge that will help students build skills and dispositions as agents within the system about the technical dimensions of teaching and learning but also about social justice and philosophical aspects. These include not only issues of oppression as their students are evolving as human beings, for example, but also who they are and are becoming as teachers, along with them.


We are also reminded by scholars like Tuck and Yang (2014) that researchers have a moral obligation to move beyond the “collec[tion] of stories of pain and humiliation in the lives of those being researched for commodifications” (p.223). Adhering to this principle we seek to create a space for general and special education teacher practitioners, education researchers, and students with dis/abilities at their intersections, and parents, to reconcile the existing tensions and intersections we see in our relationships with students with dis/abilities at their intersections and education systems. As a necessary first step to unpacking these beliefs, we recognize two implicit tensions which shape how teachers, students with dis/abilities at their intersections and parents from historically and continually marginalized populations interact in educational spaces.  These are special education IEP committee meetings, and the communication and advocacy efforts of parents within schools on behalf of their students.

First we call for an examination of the explicit and implicit values, assumptions, and perspectives embedded in educational policy at large, specifically policies of special education. By this we mean we want to start more conversations about the connotations, denotations, and expectations associated with the rights, responsibilities and entitlements of school districts, students with dis/abilities at their intersections, and their parents. While it is beyond the scope of this blog to trace the historical shifts and opinions of policy makers, judges, and public opinion towards the protection of the educational and civil rights of students with dis/abilities at their intersections and responsibilities of their parents to protect these rights over time, we do note the shift over time that has increasingly placed responsibility on students with dis/abilities at their intersections and parents to protect their rights (Turnbull, 2005).

Second, we acknowledge that the material realities in which we find ourselves as humans are continuously shaped by the visible and invisible forces of capitalism and class as well as capital (Bourdieu, 1986) derived from our identities and backgrounds that include economic capital (class background), social capital (educational attainment and other status markers), and society’s labels based on singular categories of race/ethnicity, class, gender, etc. All of these intersect and create multiple forms of oppression and marginalization within educational contexts which are meant to provide access, participation, and positive outcomes and capital in the first place. The question that emerges from these two points is, what concrete steps we can take to change how we as teachers, students, and parents interact and work together in educational spaces.

Though not a final, or fully developed answer (if even one exists) we suggest that teachers, mentors, and all persons must challenge themselves to take up two mind-and-heartsets that will create repositioning of power, equity, and inclusive collaboration in this work:

  1. Consider equally, and perhaps foreground our treatment and relationships with others in a way that positions the person before the disability label[5] and the policy rather than the standard (or historical) practices of placing the student’s disability before a notion of students as an individual human being; and
  2. Work to intentionally operate from a value-neutral position[6] in which we withhold judgement and check our biases about those individuals with whom we work (Fitzpatrick, Sanders, & Worthen, 2011), and use a lens of empowerment evaluation centered on 10 core principles that include: “Improvement, Community ownership, Inclusion, Democratic participation, Social Justice, Community Knowledge, Evidence-based strategies, Capacity Building (we add in others/persons), Organizational learning, and Accountability” (Fetterman & Wanderson, 2004. p.30).

With these objectives in mind-and-heart we hope to begin creating space in communities about the potential for re-shaping how we work together towards both internal and external inclusion for ALL. We do want to point out, however, that given the status quo and the deep asymmetrical legacies of power-relations embedded within U.S. education, we also encourage the readers to continue to question what counts as “evidence” within positivist structures (Heshusius & Ballard, 1996) that attempt to “prescribe” “evidence-based” practices as “universal.”  Asking who benefits and who doesn’t and other questions of power, privilege, representation, and difference are not asked in assessing “strategies” or in other words “scripts” for human interactions within learning and teaching contexts. These “scripts” we submit further construct and impede authenticity, love and justice, and lead to further dehumanization and hence colonization. We believe this alternative mind-and-heart paradigm, as a way of being, doing, feeling and seeing, can contribute to a generative language and emotionality that humanizes and can work toward educational equity for ALL.


[1] We chose to use the term emergent bilingual instead of English Language Learner (ELL) given that ELL centers the power of English, and reproduces the hegemony of English, while the former term acknowledges not a deficit view or assumption of individuals learning another language which happens to be English and denotes a positive and robust repertoires of linguistic practices that the language learner can engage in learning beyond English.

[2] We chose to use the term culture-less and identity-less as opposed to “color-blind,” given that the latter is a species of ableist language since it connotes “blindness” as a deficit. In addition, these two words emphasize the role of culture and identity in all human activity, when often times these two words are only associated to particular ethnic groups such as African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Indigenous groups. When in fact, those at the center of power in the U.S., such as White, cisgendered, abled-psychoemotional and bodied, upper-class, English-only speaking, and those who embody other hegemonic identities, also have culture, but they might not be aware of it given that they are the center of power and these identities have become normalized and hence are at the center of the historical assimilationist project working to and through people who embody such positionalities and hence it is difficult to be introspective as a culture or an individual when you don’t question your culture or the role of power in your identities that are privileged within the larger social imaginary of what counts to be human.

[3] Given our Disability Studies in Education (DSE) dispositions, we add a dash to the term, “disabilities,” to underscore the fact our belief that people with dis/abilities have both abilities and impairments and in given our belief in the social model of disability we see dis/ability as an identity marker to be proud of, as opposed to something to diagnosis and remediate. The latter would be the medical model of disability.

[4] By emotional states, we don’t purely take a psychological stance on emotion, feelings, and affect, but one that is interdisciplinary in nature that understands emotional states as social constructions and sociocultural in nature as well.

[5] From a Disability Studies in Education approach, it is important to acknowledge that some people with disabilities would prefer a disability identity-first language and it is perfectly fine to put the disability identity first. This is so, given that disability is seen from a minority model approach where disability serves as a political identity in order to garner civil rights (Longmore, 2003).

[6] Nevertheless, we want to be explicit about the importance of understanding that we are not advocating for “objectivity” here, since we understand that there is no such thing. Moving beyond binaries of subjectivity and objectivity is important to build upon one’s inclusive critical thinking and acting within educational relationships and systems. In addition, as stated earlier in the blog, teaching and (un)learning is a political act and antithetical to neutrality.



Ainlay, S. C., Becker, G., & Coleman, L. M. (1986). The Dilemma of difference: A multidisciplinary view of stigma. New York, NY: Plenum.

Artiles, A. J., King-Thorius, K., Bal, A., Waitoller, F., Neal, R., & Hernández-Saca, D. I. (2011). Beyond culture as group traits: Future learning disabilities ontology, epistemology, and research knowledge use. Learning Disability Quarterly, 34, 167-179.

Artiles, A. J. (2015). Beyond responsiveness to identity badges: Future research on culture in disability and implications for RTI. Educational Review, 67(1), 1-22.

Artiles, A. J. (2017, October 19). Re-envisioning equity research: Disability identificationdisparities as a case in point. Fourteenth annual AERA Brown lecture in Education Research. Retrieved from:

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.). Handbook of Theory and

Research for the Sociology of Education (241-258). New York, Greenwood. Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). P.L. 89-10.

Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA). P.L. 114-95.

Fitzpatrick, J.L., Sanders, J.R., & Worthen, B.R. (4th Ed.) (2011). Program evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines. New York, NY: Allyn & Bacon.

Fetterman, D. M., & Wandersman, A. (2004). Empowerment Evaluation Principles in Practices. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Fromm, E. (1956). The art of loving. New York, NY: Harper Row.

Gallo, S. (2016). Mi padre: Mexican immigrant fathers and their children’s education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Ginsberg, M.B., Kamat, S., Raghu, R., & Weaver, J. (1995). Educators and politics: Interpretations, involvement, and implications. In Ginsberg, M. B. (Ed.). The Politics of Educators’ Work and Lives. New York, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.

Greene, G. (2011). Transition Planning for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Youth. Brookes Transition to Adulthood Series. Baltimore, Maryland: Brookes Publishing Company.

Hall, S. (1997). Race, the floating signifier. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation. Retrieved from:

Harry, B., Allen, N., & McLaughlin, M. (1995). Communication versus compliance: A three-year study of the evolution of African-American parents’ involvement in special education. Exceptional Children, 61(4), 364-377.

Hernández-Saca, D. I. (2017). Re-framing the master narratives of dis/ability at my intersections: An outline of a research agenda. Critical Disability Discourses/Discours critiques dans le champ du handicap, 8, 1-30.

Heshusius, L. & Ballard, K. (1996). How do we count the ways we know? Some background to the project. In Heshusius, L. & Ballard, K. (Eds). From positivism to interpretivism and beyond: Tales of transformation in educational and social research (The mind-body connection), (pp. 1-16). New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). P.L. 108-446.

Longmore, P.K. (2003). Why I burned my book and other essays on disability. Philadelphia: PA: Temple University.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB). P.L. 107-110.

Powell, J. (2012). Racing to justice: Transforming our conceptions of self and other to build an inclusive society. Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Trainor, A.A. (2010). Diverse approaches to parent advocacy during special education home-school interactions: Identification and use of cultural and social capital. Remedial and Special Education, 31(1), 34-47.

Tuck, E., & Yang, K.W. (2014). R-Words: Refusing Research. In Paris, D. & Winn, M. (Eds). Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities (pp.223-248). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Turnbull, R. H. III. (2005). Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Reauthorization-Accountability and personal responsibility. Remedial and Special Education, 26(6), 320-326.

West, C. (1993). Race matters. Boston, MA: Beacon Press

Adaptive Sporting and Recreational Programs Empower Disability Acceptance

By Timothy E. HornikLMSW, CATIS, US Army Veteran and Founder of Blind Not Alone.Tim is a disability and Veterans advocate pursuing a PhD in Therapeutic Sciences through the University of Kansas Medical Center. He adheres to Dr. Ed Canda’s concept of transilience, or going beyond who you were before to become someone new. He has earned various military and civilian recognitions for his service.


Mr. Hornik earned military and civilian recognition for service. During his military experience, he received the Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Purple Heart for injuries sustained, Army Accommodation Medal with Valor for actions in combat, campaign ribbons for service in Iraq and Korea, Combat Action Badge, and many other awards. During his civilian life, he received the University of Kansas (KU) MSW Margo Award for clinical practice, the KU Wounded Warrior Scholarship for his PhD pursuits, inducted into the inaugural UW La Crosse ROTC Hall of Fame, and nominated by UW La Crosse for the US Army ROTC Hall of Fame.

As we flip through social media feeds it is common to hit upon anything from a shared post on some fitness app, like Straba, to “liking” a friend’s running race results  These posts may motivate us to remain physically active or inspire us to establish health and wellness goals (Teodoro & Naaman, 2013). Our timelines and feeds lead us to conclude that the society generating our online experiences clearly cares about physical fitness.  Unfortunately, the National Institute of Health recently reported otherwise.  In the last decade one out of three American adults and 13% of American adolescents achieved an average body mass index (BMI) classification of either overweight or obese  (Ng et al., 2014).

For individuals with disabilities, the chances of being overweight or obese are even greater.  In 2010, The Center for Disease Control reported 57% more adults and 84% more adolescents with disabilities were overweight and/or more obese than their peers

Factors such as access to quality nutrition, financial and social resources to engage in physical fitness-related activities, secondary effects of medications or conditions, and access to suitable equipment and programs, directly impact these elevated rates (Jaarsma, Dijkstra, Geertzen, & Dekker, 2014; Warburton, Nicol, & Bredin, 2006).

Dr. Chen and Tim Hornik

Dr. Robert Chen, left, and Tim Hornik appear pleased following their portion of the blinded veteran relay at the California International Marathon.

However, by understanding how to achieve fitness goals, individuals with disabilities may reverse national trends. In a study of older adults, moderate to vigorous physical activities three times a week lowered their mortality rates by 22%  (Hupin et al., 2015).

image (1)

Children who participated in a group aerobic and strength training program for 60 minutes twice a week achieved fitness goals established by the 2010 President’s Fitness Test for their age groups (Fragala-Pinkham, Haley, Rabin, & Kharasch, 2005).  For adults, research pinpointing precise strategies or fitness requirements vary based on an individual’s disability. Community and group programs tend to do more than just empower one to reach their fitness goals, they more importantly aid in the process of accepting a disability or adopting a positive disability identity (Lai, Young, Bickel, Motl, & Rimmer, 2017; Lundberg, Taniguchi, McCormick, & Tibbs, 2011; Ponchillia, Ponchillia, & Strause, 2002).


The impact of fitness goals goes beyond health and wellness.  It alters self-perception.  Consider an individual who has just lost their sight. It’s common for people in this position to feel suddenly secluded. The simple act of going for a run resides largely outside of their abilities without accommodations and supports. No cane technique affords one the chance to truly hit a moderate to vigorous running pace and cycling independently remains elusive—at least for the time being. The solution requires a community approach. Blind Running or cycling quickly becomes a team sport through sighted guides and tandem captains. An individual’s results range from the achievement of fitness goals, to a sense of belonging, to engagement with community, to empowerment in establishing new independent living goals (Ponchillia, Ponchillia, & Strause, 2002)


The sense of positive effects of being a part of something greater than oneself in achieving a previously impossible goal echoes my feelings generated during my time in the US Army before losing my sight — and in every race or event I’ve participated in since then.  My sight loss stems from injuries sustained during combat operations in Iraq.  The Warrior culture places a significant value on one’s ability to demonstrate individual physical prowess during fitness tests and to developing a sense of cohesion, improved morale, and esprit de corps through group activities.


Throughout my military service, my fitness goals pushed me to exceed minimum requirements and obtain the maximum score possible. Early in my career, I managed to easily achieve this, earning the respect of those under my leadership and generating a high level of self-confidence. These feelings of accomplishment came crashing down after I lost my sight and could no longer independently run, cycle, or do a host of other activities.

During my rehabilitation process, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Army Wounded Warrior Program, and friends and family contributed to developing my disability identity.  Initially I rejected outright all attempts to integrate tools and skills which brought any attention to my blindness. The only exception involved assistive technologies for computers. This would align with my love for computers and an understanding of the role they would play in my remaining time in the Army.  At no point during this period did anyone attempt to assess my capacity for setting goals in adaptive sporting or recreational programs.


Nearly a decade after being injured, Richard Hunter, a blind Marine, drew my attention to adaptive sports through his events for the visually impaired division of the California International Marathon. While I participated in a couple of events for disabled Veterans, none of them truly demonstrated the power of adaptive sports to foster life changing dynamics between peers, volunteers, and community supporters. It mattered not whether one crushed the marathon with a two and a half hour time or if they putzed through a leg on a relay team like I did.  We all celebrated, regardless of our differences, together. For the first time, I truly felt proud to be blind.

It does not matter whether one establishes a goal to win their division or to simply participate. I continue to feel this way throughout any of the events I attend. When Dr. Mike Reynolds and I competed in the 204 mile Dirty Kanza gravel race, we constantly found ourselves surrounded by other riders asking about tandem riding. The funniest part is that no one realized I was blind until they saw me crossing the stage with Dr. Reynolds with my white cane to mount the first-place podium for the tandem class. Likewise, my sighted running guide, Chris Benjamin and I, spent much time talking with each other and fellow participants during the Kansas City Marathon and the Trolley Run.



VA Awards $8M in Adaptive Sports Program Grants to Aid Disabled Veterans. Image taken from U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. 

It is high time for adaptive sporting programs to cease to be viewed as hobbies or remedial recreational programs for individuals with disabilities. Rather, rehabilitation plans and individual educational plans need to incorporate fitness and adaptive sporting measures. This would benefit individuals with disabilities by providing the tools needed to combat obesity, promote disability acceptance (Lundberg et al., 2011), forge lasting community bonds (Zabriskie, Lundberg, & Groff, 2005), and increase employability (Lastuka & Cottingham, 2016).


Fragala-Pinkham, M. A., Haley, S. M., Rabin, J., & Kharasch, V. S. (2005). A fitness program for children with disabilities. Physical therapy, 85(11), 1182-1200.

Hupin, D., Roche, F., Gremeaux, V., Chatard, J.-C., Oriol, M., Gaspoz, J.-M., . . . Edouard, P. (2015). Even a low-dose of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces mortality by 22% in adults aged≥ 60 years: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, bjsports-2014-094306.

Jaarsma, E., Dijkstra, P., Geertzen, J., & Dekker, R. (2014). Barriers to and facilitators of sports participation for people with physical disabilities: A systematic review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 24(6), 871-881.

Lai, B., Young, H.-J., Bickel, C. S., Motl, R. W., & Rimmer, J. H. (2017). Current trends in exercise intervention research, technology, and behavioral change strategies for people with disabilities: A scoping review. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 96(10), 748-761.

Lastuka, A., & Cottingham, M. (2016). The effect of adaptive sports on employment among people with disabilities. Disability and rehabilitation, 38(8), 742-748.

Lundberg, N. R., Taniguchi, S., McCormick, B. P., & Tibbs, C. (2011). Identity negotiating: Redefining stigmatized identities through adaptive sports and recreation participation among individuals with a disability. Journal of Leisure Research, 43(2), 205.

Ng, M., Fleming, T., Robinson, M., Thomson, B., Graetz, N., Margono, C., . . . Abera, S. F. (2014). Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The lancet, 384(9945), 766-781.

Ponchillia, P., Ponchillia, S., & Strause, B. (2002). Athletes with visual impairments: Attributes and sports participation. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB), 96(04).

Teodoro, R., & Naaman, M. (2013). Fitter with Twitter: Understanding Personal Health and Fitness Activity in Social Media. ICWSM, 2013, 611-620.

Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian medical association journal, 174(6), 801-809.

Zabriskie, R. B., Lundberg, N. R., & Groff, D. G. (2005). Quality of life and identity: The benefits of a community-based therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports program. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 39(3), 176.


Save a Starfish and Rescue Yourself

By Barbara A. Kerr. Williamson Family Distinguished Professor of Counseling Psychology, University of Kansas (KU) School of Education.


Teachers, you know the old story. A guy is walking along the beach where a tsunami has swept thousands of starfish ashore. He is throwing one starfish at a time back into the sea. Another guy walks up to him and says, “So many thousands of dying starfish. What do you accomplish by throwing one back in the sea? What does it matter?” The first guy says, as he throws another one, “Mattered to him.”

Sometimes, I am sure you feel like you are surrounded by struggling starfish. Decades of reduced funding, blaming teachers for students’ failure to meet test goals, and school closings mean that teachers, students, principals are demoralized by the long siege of the “reformers”. You’re tired of building seawalls against the tsunami… writing letters, organizing, going to meetings, speaking out… and I know that sometimes you just want to quit.


Before you quit teaching, let me have a word. I want to implore you to save a starfish. I want to encourage you to find ONE creative kid. Wait – I heard your train of thought: Creative = gifted = elitism = one white kid from a middle-class family. Just stop. I’m not talking about that. Forget the labels and the complex identification procedures for gifted education that so often favor more privileged students who have been exposed to the kinds of experiences and opportunities that are often assessed as part of the formal processes for determining/labeling who is gifted who is not.


Creative students who have potential to become innovators in the arts, sciences, social vocations and entrepreneurship are some of our most neglected students. Creative kids are everywhere. In fact, creativity knows no boundaries of race, class, gender, disability or any other category devised to divide us. For example, a number of great inventors came from low-income families that had to make do, to fix things, and to tinker with an engine or a recipe until a solution is found that works.  Some eminent women writers were considered at-risk.


All kids are curious, engaged in their own learning adventures, and in love with ideas. It might be the girl or boy who reads alone at recess or insinuates his or herself into the basketball game, or spends more time drawing the four square court than playing the game. It might be the kid who doodles no matter what. It might be the kid who knows everything there is to know about videogames but doesn’t do his homework. Curiosity and creativity is part of human experience.  For some students, creativity trumps all other preoccupations.  Writing, building, coding, drawing, and emoting make school livable.


Find that kid. Teachers are good at finding creative kids – yes, my research says so – look it up. (“Finding Tomorrow’s Innovators: Profiling Creative Adolescents”) Using your intuition and your knowledge will help you recognize the creative kids around you. You can look up our five categories of traits: Verbal and linguistic skills, mathematics and science, spatial and visual skills, interpersonal and emotional skills, and music and dance (Kerr & McKay, 2013).

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 9.15.15 AM

Photograph courtesy of Sorcha Hyland

I think you already know what a future inventor, artist, writer, or leader looks like. Curious, quirky, independent, single-minded, nonconforming, and sometimes a little weird – find that kid. Ask, “What are you drawing…that looks amazing!” “Tell me about that book you’re hiding in your lap. What’s it about? What do you like about it?” “How did you figure out how to make that – it works great!” That’s how the conversation starts. Then find out what he or she wants to know about that topic, and give the gift of knowledge. Slip her a book to read. Tell him where he can find an animation software program. Show him an article on Japanese cultural influences on early Nintendo games. Now keep the conversation going, every day. Share your enthusiasm for the student’s passions with the parents. Find a friend who knows something about that kid’s interest, and introduce that person to the family—that’s social capital. Look for after-school programs or a summer camp that fits, and find a local library, museum, or college where that child has never been – and get him or her there – that’s cultural capital. Find and raise scholarship money for those programs – that’s capital. Talk about careers, and help the kid develop their own agency to pursue their goals.  Finally, follow up, even after the school year is over. “What are you doing now? What’s your latest project? I’d love to see it!”


Michael #145973. Inkjet print by artist Rick Ashley, 2014. Photographed on exhibit at the Smithsonian  American Art Museum, D.C.

Pretend you’re in the post-apocalyptic scenario that has seized the imagination of a generation, and find one kid to hold safely in your hands. Keep that child safe, shelter that child from the storm. One day, he or she will find, with your help, the creative community where ideas and new enterprises can thrive. Be an advocate for that creative child until that day comes when you can throw your starfish into the sheltering sea of like souls.


Sherlock. Colored pencil illustration by Aoife Sidener, 2016. Age: 10 years. Grade: 5th.

Maybe you will discover what I did. When you find one kid, when you see her or him, when you authentically collaborate with one kid, you learn something about yourself. Perhaps you will re-awaken your love for teaching. Perhaps you awaken your own curiosity and passion for learning and new ideas. When we acknowledge the mysterious human gifts of exploration and creation in others, we find it in ourselves. To rescue starfish is to rescue ourselves.


Alison Bechdel. Charcoal, mixed media and 3-D collage by Riva Lehrer, 2011. Photographed on exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, D.C. 


Kerr, B. A., & McKay, R. (2014). Smart girls in the 21st century: Understanding talented girls and women. Tucson AZ: Great Potential Press.

Kerr, B. A., Cohn, S. J. (2001). Smart boys: Talent, manhood and the search for meaning. Scottsdale AZ: Great Potential Press.

Kerr, B. & McKay, R., (2013). Searching for tomorrow’s innovators: Profiling creative adolescents. Creativity Research Journal, 25(1). 21-32. DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2013.752180


Barbara Kerr, Ph.D. holds an endowed chair as Distinguished Professor of Counseling Psychology at the University of Kansas and is an American Psychological Association Fellow. Her M.A. from the Ohio State University and her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri are both in counseling psychology. Her research has focused on the development of talent, creativity, and optimal states, while training psychologists and counselors to be talent scouts who provide positive, strengths-based services. She founded the Guidance Laboratory for Gifted and Talented at the University of Nebraska; was Associate Director of the Belin-Blank National Center for Gifted and Talented at the University of Iowa; and co-director of the National Science Foundation projects for talented at risk girls at Arizona State University. She is editor of the recent Encyclopedia of Giftedness, Creativity, and Talent Development, and author of Smart Girls: A New Psychology of Girls, Women, and Giftedness; A Handbook for Counseling Gifted and Talented; co-author of Smart Boys: Talent, Masculinity, and the Search for Meaning, Counseling Girls and Women and over one hundred articles, chapters, and papers in the area of giftedness, talent, and creativity. She currently directs the Counseling Laboratory for the Exploration of Optimal States (CLEOS) at the University of Kansas, a research through service program that identifies and guides creative adolescents. With Karen Multon, she has co-directed the NSF Project, Milestones and Danger Zones for STEM Women. Barbara Kerr specializes in optimal human development and positive psychology, counseling of gifted and creative people, gender issues in counseling, and spirituality. Web site:

Charter Schools, Race, And Ability Have A Sticky Relationship

By Federico R. Waitoller 


Let’s talk about charter schools, disability and race. Three topics that tend to be discussed separately, but they stick together like bread, peanut butter, and jelly. Ok, here is a warning; I am going to start with a jargony sentence, but I promise that by the end of the blog it won’t be so jargony. Here is my sentence. First, read it, take a minute to digest it, and then continue reading it. Are you ready?

Charter schools are an ability and racial project associated to the production of urban space.

To illustrate this jargony sentence, let me share with you a quote from a participant from a recent research project that I conducted in Chicago with Black and Latinx parents of students with disabilities who experienced conflicts with charter schools. Her name was Janet, a Black parent of a student identified with Autism living in a Black segregated neighborhood that had being impacted by extreme poverty since the 1970s, and also by school instability due to school closings, including turnaround schools (see Figures 1 and 2).


Figure 1. Location of charter and magnet schools in the city of Chicago 2013-2014, school closings from 2000 to 2015, and distribution of Black population (Waitoller & Super, 2017).

Janet, had a history of poor experiences with neighborhood schools. Before enrolling in the charter school, her son attended to two turnaround schools in where the constant turnover of personnel affected the delivery of special education services received by her son. After these experiences, Janet felt without school options. “I just was being failed by all of these schools out there. The charter was our last resort,” she said.


Figure 2. Community typologies and location of charter and magnet schools and school closed 2000-2015 (Waitoller & Super, 2017).

Once in the charter school, her son received uncountable disciplinary sanctions, including numerous suspensions. When reflecting about her experiences in the charter school Janet shared with me,

Race has a lot to do with it because I feel like they just automatically assume, “Well, since you’re black, you’re poor, you come from a broken home, you’re a single parent, and your child has problems because of that.  Not because of his disabilities, his routines, his environment at school.  Well, because he’s adopted, he’s black, you’re black, this is a black area, and those are your problems.  That’s why your kid is actin’ up, so let us just fix him.  We’ll get him right.  We’ll have him like a robot in no time if you just calm down and let us, and it’ll be better that way.  We’re gonna push him.” They go off of—they taught my son chants and songs that he’s going to college every day.  I don’t have a problem with that.  I do want him to go to college, but I feel like it was kind of a brain washing mechanism that they’re using with these kids, like black people are down here and poor, and white people go to college and they’re up here.  I have a bachelor’s degree. You’re a poverty stricken black family and let us show you what you can do to improve everything in your life, your child’s.” Comin’ into these areas, these neighborhoods, and puttin’ up these—factories is a good analogy, and your kids are the product.  It’s all about numbers.  “Well, Miss Baker, calm down because our stats say it’s working.”  “Your child is an exception, and we’ll whip him into shape.”

Wow! Do you need to read it again? Please do so.

Lets unpack this quote together, shall we?


Illustration by Gary Hovland. Sourced from the United Federation of Teachers article, Together But Unequal. By Dorothy Callaci (2017).

Janet perceived charter schools as saviors coming to Black areas to “fix” Black student so that they can get to College. By the way, Janet’s son was in early elementary grades. The deficit discourse about black communities is clear-cut. Indeed, the large majority of charter schools in urban areas market themselves as beacons of academic and disciplinary rigor and a path to college for low-income students. Offering flashy educational opportunities for families that had far to few, if any.  A brochure from an elementary charter school in Chicago stated its how as, “how to best support our students as they grow and prepare to compete with their peers in college preparatory high schools and four-year colleges, ambitiously pursue career opportunities.” Charter schools target specifically certain areas of the city of Chicago affected by gentrification or by poverty and school closures (see maps in Figures 1 and 2). They become a “spatial fix” for the kinds of neighborhood in which Janet’s leave. They are associated to process of urban space and economic development. On the one hand by trying to revive certain area of the city that are prime for real state investment and in the other hand by producing subjects (mostly black students) that are disciplined and trained to contribute to the market economy.


Of course, there is nothing wrong with preparing students for college. That is not my point, nor was it Janet’s point. The problem is the paternalistic and deficit discourse about black communities. This deficit discourse had material consequences. The charter school employed a combination of mechanisms that were exclusionary and resulted in pushing Janet and her son away from the school: the school that she considered her last school option.

These mechanism included a combination of (a) denying certain services that Janet son had in his IEP, (b) applying a strict disciplinary and academic code that did not account for Janet’s son disability, (c) having inexperienced and untrained teachers, and (d) explicitly suggesting her to move her son to another schools in where he could receive better services. If students could not perform in such inflexible, non-supportive, and normalizing environment, they were weeded out or suggested to leave. This was the case of Janet’s son.


DisCrit—Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory in Education. Connor, D. J., Ferri, B. A., & Annamma, S. A. (Eds.). (2016). Teachers College Press. 

In Janet’s family’s case, race and disability intersected in two ways. On the one hand, by dis/abling race through negative and racist attitudes toward black children, the charter schools positioned themselves as saviors that came to “Whip children into shape” so that they can become productive subjects and attend to college, and ultimately contribute to a market economy. On the other hand, by racializing disability, the academic and disciplinary practices of charter schools positioned black children as dis/able and incapable to succeed in an environment that was never designed with them in mind.

If charter schools are to become a solution to educational inequities, they should not be excluding any student. Otherwise, charter schools are like and old wine in a new bottle. Old forms of exclusion based on racism and ableism are now renewed and mutated under the banner of school choice. Exclusive spaces come to replace exclusive spaces.


Racial segregation in many charter schools isn’t far from the Civil Rights-era levels that these Chicagoans protested (Kartemquin). Photo sourced from In These Times: Charter Schools May Be Re-Segregating America’s Education System by David Sirota (2012). 

So, can charter schools become inclusive rather than exclusive? I mean not a just a few exemplary cases, but all of them or at least the vast majority. Otherwise, they are not options for parents who live in spaces where those schools do not exist. And, even if those schools are an option for parents like Janet, do we want students of color to attend such paternalistic, meritocratic, and punishing spaces? Do these spaces have communities of color best interests or what purpose do they serve?  Whose cultural, political, and economic values informed charter schools’ practices?


I think even when regulated and in their best form, charter schools will struggle to deliver their promises of equitable inclusive education. First, market responses to educational inequities present services for particular students, or we also may say particular identities. They are selective by design. In order to market themselves, charter schools have distinct missions that differentiate them from other schools. They have a particular market niche (e.g., disciplining student of color in areas perceived as unsafe and marginalized). Their teaching practices represent such missions, as in the case of Janet. Their goals are not to be inclusive but exclusive to certain kinds of students.

charter-school-protest-Second, the problem of market of responses to inequities such as charter schools is that they address students with disabilities and other underserved populations in paradoxical terms. They are commodities that are desirable but also disposable. That is, on the one hand, these students signal new opportunities for market expansion and commodification (e.g., charter schools economically benefit from enrolling students). Students with dis/abilities, particular those of color, are understood as eternally lacking and in constant need of new commodities (a charter school education) to be individuals that contribute to the market economy. Charter schools offer the services to whip these students into shape and the promises of being included in the market economy.  On the other hand, students with disabilities are perceived as threats to the “ideal individual” that contributes to the market economies (i.e., productive, independent, disciplined, and self-entrepreneur) and therefore, they are a threat to the core identity of the charter school and need to be disciplined, fixed, and normalized. Otherwise, they need to be pushed away.


To end, I want to go back to our starting phrase; Charter schools are an ability and racial project associated to the production of urban space. That is, charter schools are located in urban spaces occupied by black (also Latino families) families that have suffer years of poverty due to neglect and disinvestment or in spaces that are seen as prime for real state development (i.e., gentrification). After various poor educational experiences, Black and Latinx parents that I interviewed living in such spaces were lured by the promises of charter schools: a safe space in unsafe neighborhoods and the so coveted access to college. Once in the charter school, however, they experience new forms of exclusion at the intersections of race and disability. In the end, the charter school promises vanished, and parents found themselves again looking for another school in an educational market that treats them as disposable.  Charter schools, race, and ability have a sticky relationship.

About the Author

Federico Waitoller

Dr. Waitoller is an assistant professor in the department of special education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research focuses on urban inclusive education. In particular, he examines how neoliberal informed polices, such as top-down accountability, portfolio district models, and school choice converge with inclusive education efforts, and how these initiatives affect Black and Latinx students with dis/abilities. His research also examines teacher learning efforts and pedagogies for inclusive education.

He can be contacted at His work can be followed at and at Research Gate. You can also follow Federico in Twitter at @waitollerf.


Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

When I enrolled in my first college class as a special education major in the Fall semester of 1978, it was with both the excitement of a pioneering adventure and apprehension of the enormity of the task.  Excitement because only a few years earlier (1975) the landmark Public Law 94-142 had been passed and the field of special education was growing in leaps and bounds.

Picture1Apprehension because—well, because there was so much to do.  PL 94-142—now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—opened the school doors for literally thousands upon thousands of children and youth with disabilities who, prior to that Act, were denied a free public education in most places in the country. I began my teaching career in 1980 and throughout that decade can remember adolescents coming to school for the first time in their lives.

In 2015, I had the privilege of speaking at the U.S. Department of Education’s celebration of the 40th Anniversary of IDEA.  It was a time to reflect, to admire the journey, to celebrate the progress, and to take stock of what remained to be done.  In other words, it was a time of excitement to celebrate the impact of that landmark Act, and a time of apprehension about  the enormity of the task that remained.  Yes, there was much accomplished in that 40-year span, and we must not take for granted what has been achieved nor forget those who worked so hard to get us to this point.  Yet, there is still much to be done.  Picture2Students with disabilities are still too often segregated from their peers without disabilities. Special education remains, in the minds of too many, a place to which students are sent, rather than specially-designed instruction. Students with disabilities are held to low expectations and IEPs still too often reflect student deficits and not their strengths.

On July 1 of this year, I had the honor of becoming the chair of the KU Department of Special Education.  I do so with a sense of both—well, you guessed it, excitement and anticipation.  Excitement for the innovations that will result from the research, teaching, and service from our internationlly-renowned faculty.  Picture3Excitement for the opportunity to interact with world-class doctoral and graduate students.  Excitement for the growth of the highest quality online graduate programs in the country.  Excitement for the opportunity to work with alumni who are changing the field and friends of the department who support our efforts.  Excitement to work with teachers and administrators and students in schools across Kansas, the U.S. and, indeed, the world.  We are uniquely positioned to lead the field into whatever is next. In fact, it is what we do… we lead the field in new directions.  Dr. Elizabeth Kozleski has provided exceptional leadership to the department and we are stronger as a result.   Anticipation?  Well, we are not the same faculty I joined in 2001.  Many of those pioneers have retired and started new adventures.  We, as a faculty, need to create our own identity, forge our own path, and build on the legacy that we have inherited.  The challenges are, in some way, more difficult.  The easy problems in education have been solved, what are left require partnerships, creative thinking, and elbow grease.  And yet… there are few, if any, departments better situated to take on these tasks:  To generate the next big idea that changes how students with disabilities are educated;  to train the next generation of leaders in research and practice; to influence policy that leads to full citizenship for all.  It is what we do… we lead the field in new directions.  I look forward to working with you in whatever role you have in our department as we start this part of the department’s journey.

Rock Chalk!

Picture4Michael L. Wehmeyer, Ph.D., is the Ross and Marianna Beach Distinguished Professor in Special Education and the chairperson in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas.  He is also Director and Senior Scientist for the Beach Center on Disabilty at KU.


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